BOSTON – Now that we have ourselves a series, the St. Louis Blues can look to get a little greedy, but they’ll have to stop being decidedly mediocre at home, where they have only a 5-5 record so far in these playoffs. But their chances of taking a stranglehold on this series will depend upon them continuing to push two agendas at the Enterprise Center. The first is their ability to render the Boston Bruins top line impotent and the other is to continue to exploit their decided physical advantage over the Bruins.
If they do that, they won’t be done winning games in this Stanley Cup final. It’s what prevented them from going down 0-2 in the final and it’s what helped them stop the Bruins’ eight-game playoff winning streak. “They came harder than (Game 1),” said Bruins winger Charlie Coyle. “They had pace, they hit and they were all over the puck. We expected that. I don’t think our play was up to par with theirs and you see they got the result they earned.”
No argument there. After all, the hockey gods are usually pretty even-handed when it comes to these kinds of things. The Blues deserve to be headed back home with a split and a chance to make things very interesting. The Blues held the Bruins top line of Patrice Bergeron between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak to just nine shot attempts at even strength. And the most encouraging thing about it from a St. Louis perspective is that Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy kept trying to get his top line away from the Brayden Schenn line, so all of them have been keeping Bergeron’s line at bay. Much of that has to do with the work of the defense tandem of Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester.
“I think Bouwmeester and Parayko were out there 90 percent of the time against them,” said Blues coach Craig Berube. “They’ve done a great job. We’ve used different lines against them, whether it’s (Oskar) Sundqvist’s line, Schenn’s line, (Ryan) O’Reilly at times. I think everybody’s just aware of when they’re out there. You’ve got to be on the right side of things…managing the puck well, making them play in their own end.”
And then there is the physical side of the game. Going into the series, one of the advantages the Blues held over the Bruins was in physicality. That advantage was largely because of their defensemen, but the Blues have received a conga line of forechecking from their forwards. The Blues were credited with 50 hits in Game 2, with Schenn leading the way with eight. Sometimes they get a little overzealous, such as when Sundqvist went off for boarding on a hit that knocked Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk out of the game and may get a review from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. (“No comment,” Sundqvist said of the hit. “I can’t say anything.”)
“We’re a physical hockey team,” Berube said. “I don’t know what to tell you. I mean, we’re going to play physical.”
This is an enormous part of the Blues’ identity. If they turn this thing into a skills competition, they’re in trouble. They are a north-south team that keeps things fairly simple. Or as Berube put it, “There’s no room to make a bunch of plays anyhow.” By constantly being on the puck and establishing a punishing forecheck, not only do the Blues register a bunch of hits, it also has a positive effect on zone time. Keeping the Bruins in their end is a pretty good way to play defense.
“They’re a good team, too, and you’ve got to give them credit because they throw their bodies around, too,” said Blues winger Patrick Maroon. “That being said, we’ve just got to continue hitting. That’s our team. Dumping it in and grinding it down low, that’s hitting to me. That’s protecting, that’s wearing the opposition down. We can go out and do a big hit, but going in and protecting the puck and being strong on the boards, that’s hitting in my eyes.”
The Blues certainly didn’t waver from their resolve after the Sundqvist hit on Grzelcyk. If anything, they ramped up their physical efforts. “I think we did a good job of continuing to just push,” Parayko said. “Our forecheck was tremendous. If you watch our forwards, they created turnovers and that’s the name of our game as a team.”
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